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Home » Country Etiquette » France

French Etiquette Tips

Invited to a person's home in France?  Want to bring a bottle of wine as a gift?  You better do your homework first!  France is known for its wine, and you'll make a far better impression if you bring something fantastic!

Delicious food and drink items such as wine and cheese are very important in French culture, so it's important to be very respectful of your table manners while in France, as well as follow other basic French etiquette.

1. Dress Attire

  1. DO wear what you normally wear, but keep in mind that attire such as baseball caps, flip-flops, and white sneakers are not traditionally worn by French people.  It is fine to wear it, but you will probably be labeled as a tourist.
  2. DO feel welcome to wear your country's ethnic attire if necessary, such as kilts, saris, etc.  People may stare at you in the more rural areas of France, but people will not be offended.

2. Table Manners

  1. DON'T eat with your fingers!  You should always use your eating utensils, even at a fast food restaurant.
  2. DON'T   eat on the street.  It can be seen as unsophisticated.
  3. DON'T start eating immediately after being served.  Wait for your host to put their napkin on their lap, and then follow suit. After drinks have been served, join in on the toast.  You may start dining after the host invites you to begin eating.
  4. DON'T take a bite from a whole piece of bread. Instead, tear your bread into a bite-sized piece and then eat it.
  5. DO expect a glass of wine with dinner.  Wine glasses are filled only three-quarters of the way.
  6. DON'T put your arms on your lap during dinner.  Put them above the table.

3. Tipping

  1. DO round up when paying a bill at a bar or restaurant, unless the service was really bad.  Bars and restaurants are legally required to include a service fee in their bill, but customarily people will either round up or pay a small 5% tip.
  2. DO tip taxi drivers and hairdressers 10%.
  3. DO tip chambermaids about Euro 1.50 if you stay more than two or three nights at a hotel, or more if they do any pressing or laundry for you.  If the concierge was helpful, it is customary to leave a tip of Euro 8 - Euro 16, depending on the level of service and the hotel itself. 
  4. DO tip train and airport porters on a per bag basis.  They usually receive a fixed sum of Euro 0.90 - Euro 1.50 per bag. After a guided tour, museum guides should get Euro 1.50 - Euro 3. It is also a standard practice to tip bus drivers  Euro 1.50 after an trip.  

4. Gift giving and Accepting Gifts

  1. DO give a gift that shows that you are intellectual, such a gift of books or music.
  2. DO bring a gift for the hostess if invited to a French person's house.  Good host gift ideas include flowers and wine.  Bear in mind that France is known for its wine, so do your research and bring a nice bottle of wine!  If you are invited to dinner, a dessert or cheese previously decided on also makes a nice gift.
  3. DON'T give an even number of flowers as a gift.  Flowers should always be given in odd numbers, except for thirteen, as that is an unlucky number.
  4. DO be very careful when picking out flowers as a gift.  There are a few taboos when it comes to giving a French person flowers.  White flowers are typically only used during weddings, white lilies and chrysanthemums are flowers for funerals, and red carnations stand for bad will. 

5. Body Gestures

  1. DO maintain eye contact because it shows you are interested in the conversation.

6. Greetings

  1. DO shake hands upon meeting someone, as well as when you are leaving.  French handshakes are not as firm as American handshakes.
  2. DO greet people with "bonjour" (good day) or "bonsoir" (good evening), and when leaving say "au revoir", which means good-bye.
  3. DO address people with the titles "Monsieur"  (Mister) and "Madame" (Mrs.) when meeting someone for the first time, or in a business meeting.  Use "Mademoiselle" when greeting a young, unmarried woman or girl.  Older, unmarried women can still be referred to as "Madame."

7. Language Etiquette

  1. DO address people with the titles "Monsieur"  (Mister) and "Madame" (Mrs.) when meeting someone for the first time, or in a business meeting.  Use "Mademoiselle" when greeting a young, unmarried woman or girl.  Older, unmarried women can still be referred to as "Madame."
  2. DO apologize for your lack of knowledge if you do not speak French. 

8. Visitors Etiquette

  1. DO give your host a gift.  As a tourist from another country, a gift from your native country is appreciated.

9. Business Meeting

  1. DO maintain eye contact when talking with clients.  This shows them that your full attention is with them.
  2. DON'T expect the people you are meeting with to be on time.  Punctuality is treated very casually in France.
  3. DON'T show any impatience or a confrontational attitude, as it can be seen as a sign of being unprofessional.
  4. DO wear business outfits such as tailored suits, pants, and skirts. 

10. Beach Etiquette

  1. DON'T take your top off at a swimming pool or beaches that are part of a hotel unless you don't mind people staring.  It won't necessarily cause a scene, but some people may ogle.
  2. DO put a shirt on once leaving the beach.
  3. DON'T worry about small children running around the beach without clothes on.  People won't be offended. 

Don't be intimidated by the list of dos and don'ts.  The French will help you adapt if need be, and many large cities are used to foreign visitors.  Do keep the above list in mind, however, to help you throughout your trip! 

 
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